Korean troops stationed in strife-torn South Sudan as part of UN peacekeeping operations have accepted 10,000 rounds of ammunition from Japan's Self Defense Forces. Korea dispatched 210 engineering troops and 70 soldiers to protect them to South Sudan, and Japan sent 320 peacekeeping troops.
But while the Korean troops were supplied only with enough ammunition to carry on their bodies, Japanese soldiers had ample reserves in case of an emergency.
Ethnic disputes between factions led by South Sudan's incumbent president and former vice president have spread to a full-blown conflict that threatens the safety of UN peacekeeping troops. The conflict was foreseen when the president ousted the vice president in July this year.
That means Korean troops should have been supplied with ample ammunition and weapons when they were sent to South Sudan in October, but the military command here failed to even assess the basic political situation in the region.
The military says it initially asked for extra ammunition from the UN Mission in South Sudan, which in turn asked American and Japanese troops to supply bullets for Korean troops since they were the only two among 11 nations dispatched there that used the same 5.56 mm ammunition.
A Defense Ministry official said the decision to accept the ammunition from Japan "was made by the Defense Ministry after reviewing the assessment of the commanding officer in the field." On receiving the request, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe immediately convened a meeting of responsible ministers, and the Japanese defense minister announced to the press shortly afterwards that the ammunition would be provided.
Japanese media naturally had a field day, splashing the news on their front pages and spinning the story in some cases to demonstrate how necessary it is that Japan should assert its right to so-called collective self-defense, where its troops can operate abroad if an ally is in some way under attack.
It is hard to believe that the government here left it to the Defense Ministry and the assessment of a single field commander to handle an issue that in Japan got the prime minister himself involved. It suggests that no one in the government bothered to assess the potential diplomatic ramifications.
Why does the government even bother to convene a weekly meeting of top diplomatic and national security officials? And what is the point of the National Security Council at Cheong Wa Dae?
It is nonsense to think that Abe offered to provide the bullets as part of some broad plan for global peace he harbors in his dove-like breast. But the ineptitude of the Defense Ministry is playing right into Japan's hands in spreading such stories. The government urgently needs to address the diplomatic and security blunders it committed and do what it can to rectify them.